How to Tell a Donor-Centric Story
by Mike Montalto
July 23, 2020

You know there are few key elements to any good story. And you’re probably already using many of them in your appeals and other communications. But an interesting story about your mission and beneficiaries may not be enough to drive donations on its own.

You need to help your donors see the difference a donation really makes by telling a donor-centric story.

Using phrases like because of you helps donors feel like they've made a difference

What do we mean by a donor-centric story?

Storytelling is the key to securing repeated gifts from long-term donors. And all stories should emphasize the donor’s role in making your mission a reality. It’s critical for your donors to see themselves as an important part of your work.

There are two easy ways to develop a donor-centric story.

First, did the story in your appeal focus on your beneficiaries? If so, then make sure you show donors how they made this story happen by using phrases like “because of you…” and “with your help…” in your follow up.

The second way is to appeal to a donor’s sense of self. This involves identifying a trait or value that drew a specific donor to your organization in the first place. You will then use this piece of information to bring your donor closer to the story and your mission.

For example, an animal rescue can use different stories for dog owners and cat owners. As you know, many people see their pets as a member of their family. So, a story about how a helpless stray kitten was rescued will resonate more with cat owners. While a story about an abused dog who found a loving home because of the rescue will appeal more to dog owners.

Place a donor that represents your ideal donor profile at the center of your story

Stories about donors

Another way to approach donor-centric storytelling is by focusing on a specific donor that embodies your ideal donor profile. You can tell the story of what drew that individual to your organization and share what you’ve accomplished because of their generosity.

Then, make a connection to your recipient. Use statements like, “Our work is possible because of donors like Ms. Smith and yourself,” or “You can make an impact, just like Ms. Smith.”

Ideally, donors should be able to see themselves in place of the subject of your donor-centric story. This is also a great way to show your current and prospective donors that you value the people who make your work possible!

And don’t forget to feature you high-dollar and long-term donors in your annual report. These publications are a great way to talk about what you’ve accomplished during the year while placing emphasis on the donors who made it possible.

Having well known major donors or board members write personalized thank you notes can bring donors closer to your organization

Donor-centric thank you’s

Let’s face it. An email with “Thanks for the donation” as a subject line isn’t going to get people very excited. So, consider starting with something like “You Rock!” or “You made my day!” instead.

Donors will begin to wonder why their donation made you so excited instead of feeling like they are receiving the same message as everyone else. This kind of messaging will draw new donors to dig deeper into your organization and website to find out more.

Having someone else say thank you is another great way to be more donor-centric. Your supporters expect a thank you note from within your organization. But you can make a more personal connection by having a beneficiary or well-known major donor or board member reach out as well!

It’s one thing when you talk about a donor’s role on the impact of your work. But having this message come from someone who benefitted directly is a more effective way to show the donor how they really made a difference in a real person’s life.

And using other well-known donors to reach out affirms that there are other people who believe in the cause. They can use phrases like “I wanted to thank you for joining me…” or “I’m glad this is important to you too!”

Make donors feel valued

Another way to make your donors feel valued is creating pathways for engagement. Invite donors who are already engaged to your next event. Keep them involved by letting them know about volunteer opportunities. Letting them see how your organization operates behind the scenes shows you are actively working towards your goal.

You can build relationships and help donors feel like part of the family, not a source of money, by including them in these activities.

It’s not enough to tell a story in your appeals and other fundraising related communications. And it’s not enough to send a simple thank you note after someone gives.

You need to build communications with your audience in mind. And a donor-centric story is more likely to inspire someone to give.

While you may be tempted to go on and on about the great things you’ve accomplished, you need to remember that your donors want to know that they are making a difference before they donate!

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